Oct. 20, 2007 — The theme was collaboration at the annual U.S.V.I.-B.V.I. Friendship Day at Crown Bay Center Saturday, as dignitaries talked about the mutual interests both entities share. Meanwhile, two protestors holding signs in support of Richard Baker who was jailed last month by British authorities for illegal fishing, tried briefly to suggest that more collaboration was needed.
Friendship Day began in October 1972 with a celebration in Road Town, Tortola, and has been celebrated annually with the exception of the years when Hurricanes Hugo and Marilyn hit the region.
The opening ceremonies featured solos by Lorna Freeman and Malvern Gumbs, whose singing of anthems and a prayer hymn brought enthusiastic applause. The audience also eagerly acknowledged the performance of the Gladys Abraham Elementary School Choir.
B.V.I. Deputy Gov. Elton Georges told Saturdays gathering that while the B.V.I. and U.S.V.I. remain divided in the political sense, Its certainly not so in the hearts of the people of both the Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. echoed his remarks, saying, We are truly one people and I look forward to working with the Governor and the Premier so that when we say the Virgin Islands, we dont have to say U.S. or British.
Our opportunities are richer, but only if we operate together, deJongh said. We have to begin to work together to market and target our opportunities — in the U.S., the U.K., South American and Asia. As a travel destination, deJongh spoke of the need to collaborate so tourists visiting Jost Van Dyke would also have Frederiksted on their itinerary.
Georges likened the barriers and borders between the two as minor inconveniences that need to be dealt with in life much like a piece of furniture in a family home that you have to go around.
B.V.I. Premier Ralph ONeal wasted no time recognizing one barrier, that of fishing rights in B.V.I. waters. The B.V.I. does not allow U.S.V.I. residents to fish within three miles of its shores without a license. Violators, who sometimes claim theyre unaware of the demarcation line, have had their boats confiscated, can face fines of up to $500,000 and have been imprisoned.
Barker is now in jail after pleading guilty to violating restricted waters. In a conversation with the Source earlier this month, Barkers wife Deborah Barton said she and Baker spent the night on Sept. 23 near Jost Van Dyke, where he used to work, without checking in with BVI Customs and Immigration.
The following morning, the couple followed other fishing boats to a popular fishing ground. Later that day, she said B.V.I. conservation officers boarded their boat and arrested the pair for fishing inside restricted waters. Barton claims at the point they were boarded, they were unaware they were inside the restricted zone.
Baker was sentenced to nine months for fishing without a license, and three months for entering the B.V.I. without having cleared customs.
We are very, very concerned about recent events, ONeal told the gathering. We have to be respectful of the separation of powers, but we, who are part of the executive, will do our utmost best to get this sore all cleaned up as soon as we can. I beg you to give me a little time, and I tell Gov. John I will be reporting to him regularly on the progress being made.
DeJongh said later hes working on securing Bakers release and saw the premiers message as a positive sign. I am hopeful [Bakers] going to get out in a reasonable timetable.
Two Baker supporters claim they were thrown out, meanwhile, of Crown Bay Center Saturday by police who asked them to leave the ceremony moments after they held up signs that read, Free Richard.
It was a quiet, peaceful demonstration, said one of the sign holders, Woody Young. Young said he and his partner, Doug McLean, were not disruptive, but simply wanted to send a message to the B.V.I. representatives.
After leaving the hall where the speeches were being delivered, Young said the police told them to leave the premises entirely.
I wanted to go back, said the 65-year-old Young. But, Im old enough to know when to say 'Yes, sir,' to a policeman. I dont know if it made any difference or not, but we tried.
Afterward, the public was invited to stroll the new Crown Bay Center, where 70 percent of the retail space is now occupied and 86 percent is under lease. Vendors lined the walkways selling traditional West Indian food and drink, as well as locally made crafts. The St. Thomas Heritage Dancers, dressed in colorful gingham dresses and bright shirts, swirled in the sunshine to the accompaniment of local musicians.
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